THE federal government has set aside $170 million in its 2017-18 budget for a same-sex marriage plebiscite, a precaution in the event that more than half of the Senate changes its mind and passes it through parliament.

“The Australian government remains committed to a plebiscite in relation to same-sex marriage, despite the Senate not supporting the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016,” the budget reads.

“To this end, the Australian government will provide $170 million to conduct a same-sex marriage plebiscite as soon as the necessary legislation is enacted by the Parliament.”

Late last year Senators from Labor, the Greens, the Nick Xenophon Team, as well as Derryn Hinch all voted the bill down.

The LGBTI community mobilised against the bill, arguing that putting their rights to a vote would leave its most vulnerable members open to bigotry and damaging rhetoric in the name of debate.

Despite this, the federal government has set aside the major sum as a ‘fiscal risk’, potential expenditure that can’t be formally included in the budget as it mightn’t end up being needed at all.

Longtime marriage equality advocate and spokesperson for just.equal Rodney Croome said it was deeply disappointing to see that the government was persisting with its ‘expensive, damaging, and unnecessary’ plebiscite.

“My fear is that this may signal a desire by the Government to move forward with Peter Dutton’s pointless postal vote or to have a plebiscite at same time as the election,” he said.

“My message to the Government is that it will suffer at the election if it doesn’t resolve marriage equality with a free vote in parliament during this term of government.

“If the Government really wants to spend $170 million on LGBTI issues it would be better off funding LGBTI school inclusion and mental health programs.”

He added that LGBTI community members should continue to lobby the government and make their opinions known.

“Marriage equality supporters must continue to contact Government members to urge a free vote and say ‘no’ to a plebiscite,” he said.

Co-Chair of Australian Marriage Equality, Alex Greenwich, believes that marriage equality is a straightforward reform that ensures every Australian is afforded the same dignity and respect.

“The Budget allocation of $170 million in contingency funds for a rejected plebiscite is a waste of tax-payers money when the Parliament has already said no,”he said.

“A vote in the parliament has the added bonus of being free and at no cost to the Australian people while extending civil marriage to all Australians.”

Executive Director of the Equality Campaign, Tiernan Brady, said despite a note in the budget papers last night, the plebiscite is still dead.

“Marriage equality supporters in Parliament have confirmed that their position is not changing,” he said.

To contact Government members and demand a free vote on marriage equality, visit: www.demandafreevote.com.au.

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